In celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month, Nebraska Today talked with Chau Nguyen, '21, who earned her degree in accounting this May. Through her leadership on campus and through the Asian Student Union, she helped students embrace their cultural identity and acted as a catalyst for change.
What is it like to be a first-generation student?
Being a first-generation student can be scary. Like anything else new, it can be intimidating going into something with little knowledge or experience from family members. It’s a challenge because, in a way, you’re at a disadvantage compared to others. A lot of it was learning through trial and error. I had to take the extra step to find resources the university has to offer. I had to step out of my shell and put myself out there more. My parents and Vietnamese culture had always taught me to just do my work and stay quiet. By challenging this norm, I was able to discover how supportive of a community students can form with each other. I’m thankful for the older first-gen students who guided me through my first year at UNL and hope we can continue to help new first-gen students.
How did joining the Asian Student Union change your college experience for the better? Is there anything you’re particularly proud of from your time as president?
ASU helped me embrace my college experience to the fullest. Before I joined ASU, my daily routine was just going to class, studying, then going home. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities on campus. Through ASU, I met my best friends and so many wonderful people who supported me. The members there really pushed me to pursue leadership positions and make the most out of my years here at UNL. I embraced the opportunities given to me and enjoyed the memories I made with my peers through ASU.
I was president of ASU for two years, and in those two years, we had many difficulties thrown at us by the pandemic. Despite these challenges, I am proud of the ASU members who were resilient and continued to push forward. They continue to fight for our community with future generations in mind. I am happy I was able to help inspire them and support them in our efforts, our organization, and the community we stand for.
How do your involvements help you make an impact?
I wanted to show Asian and Asian-American students that there is a safe space on campus for them. Growing up in Lincoln and attending predominately white schools my entire life, I never felt like I belonged and didn’t understand why I was having a hard time. I thought that there was something wrong with me. That feeling changed when I was able to meet other people like me, people that had similar experiences growing up. Through my involvement with ASU and on campus, if I am able to help other students embrace and feel comfortable with their cultural identity, I believe that is a start to making an impact on our community. No matter how small it seems, I believe that through little actions, a big difference can be made over time.
What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Honestly, I am not the type of person to have extravagant dreams and goals. I only hope that throughout my life, I am able to leave a positive impact on the people I meet. I have met so many wonderful people that have helped me grow into the person I am today. Watching them inspired me to help light a fire in others, whether it is the fire to embrace your true self or to help fight injustices in the world. I hope to spread this fire to people I meet in my lifetime and inspire them to do the same.
What or who inspires/motivates you?
I think seeing how the younger generations are more inclusive and educated really motivates me in our mission. Although we don’t necessarily see the end result of our actions and advocacy immediately, I know that it is making a difference. It will take time, but we are gradually changing society. Someday, kids will be able to grow up in a more accepting world, and I think that is something beautiful to look forward to.
ASU has been vocal about speaking up against anti-Asian hate and racism in all forms. What is your advice to other students looking to make an impact or spark change?
Take action. If you think you aren’t educated enough to speak on an issue, take the initiative to do some research to teach yourself. There are many resources on the internet and social media to help. If you want to make an impact, you have to take all your thoughts and ideas and make them happen. Find support in your friends, family, and community. You are not alone. There are people out there who want to achieve the same things as you. Find those people and work together to accomplish these things. Don’t be afraid to step up and build the community you want to see, whether it be in your organizations, on campus, or in your town.